Prisoner of The Pill

May 16, 2008 at 8:16 pm (books, feminism, rants) (, )

I just finished reading a wonderful and hilarious book, Bonk by Mary Roach.  As the name may suggest, the book is about sex, well, sex research to be specific.  I’d recommend this book to pretty much anyone who is open to finding humor in the more bawdy and intimate aspects of our lives.  We’re all human, we all do it, and frankly, sometimes its pretty darned funny!  So anyway, after giggling throughout most of the book, I came to a part which nearly made me cry in outrage.  No, it wasn’t about sexual abuse or violence (that would have REALLY made me cry), it was a short section on something that is unfortunately near and dear to me, The Pill.

On the surface, The Pill is a wonder-drug.  No babies, no acne, regular and lighter periods.  For all of these reasons, I, and millions of women like me, are on The Pill and have been for some time. I have personally been on it for about 10 years (and I’m only 27).  I started it because NOTHING else would clear up my skin as a teenager, plus my cycles were infuriatingly irregular and unpredictable.  Little did my 17 year old self know that in 10 years, I would feel like a slave to these tiny pills.  Due to medication that I am on that can cause severe birth defects, I HAVE to be extremely vigilant about not getting pregnant.  My partner and I both feel that condoms are not a reasonable alternative due to their propensity for misuse as well as our simple desire not to have to use them.  And after condoms there are VERY FEW non-hormone based contraceptives.

About a year ago, I got fed up with The Pill and took my grievances to Planned Parenthood for the purpose of getting an IUD (intra-uterine device) – the copper kind, not the one that just sits in your uterus pouring hormones into it.  First of all, the entire visit to PP was unpleasant.  The nurse who took my vitals asked why in the world I wanted to get off The Pill.  She poo-pooed the idea of a diaphram (not that I want one, but she shouldn’t have made that assumption) as being “messy” and hard to use.  In my actual consultation with the doctor, she dismissed my complaint that The Pill was causing bloating and weight gain.  I’ve never been a skinny person, but I know my body and I knew that this constant stream of progesterone – the hormone that pregnant women produce that tells their bodies not to lose fat – was doing nothing good for my weight issues.  This doctor also told me that IUDs are only appropriate for women who have already had children.  While this may be the more standard application, I don’t feel that it is exclusive, this particular doctor just didn’t feel comfortable implanting them in childless women – and she told me as much.  So I left PP feeling demoralized, dejected and without any options.  They practically threw a new prescription for Pills at me.  I got the distinct feeling that PP is being subsidized by Pill-producing companies.  Probably not true, but that was my impression.

So this brings me back to Bonk.  Mary Roach was discussing how a woman’s hormonal cycle normally causes an increase in sexual drive during the time of month while she’s ovulating (makes sense).  But women on The Pill are receiving a constant and steady stream of estrogen and progesterone which levels out their hormones, basically dulling their natural cycle and urges.  Much worse yet, The Pill induces a protein which binds to and inactivates testosterone in the blood.  Why do women need testosterone you may ask?  Well, it is the “hormone of desire”.  Without testosterone, women have greatly lowered sexual drive.  I was enraged by this.  I was NEVER told of this side-effect.  I guess diminished sexual desire is not anything worth discussing as a possible reason women would not want to use a particular drug.  I knew that I was taking estrogen and progesterone and I was already none too happy with the possible and actual side-effects of those two hormones, but now to know that my testosterone levels are also being diminished?  Holy Hell.  Can you even imagine if a birth control medication for men blunted their libido?  There’d be outrage.  No no, there wouldn’t because no drug like that would be taken by millions of men for most of their lives.

I’d love to hear from anyone else interested in this topic as well.  Has anyone heard about the use of copper IUD’s in women who have not been pregnant?  Its still something I am seriously looking into.

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The Old White Man Vote is Secure

March 6, 2008 at 2:26 pm (feminism, politics, presidental race)

I was thinking a little more about my last post – how there are women in this country that don’t agree that a woman should be president because they should instead by subservient to men.  It turns out that it probably doesn’t matter all that much politically.  These women most likely hold these 18th century views due to religious beliefs (what else would inspire such self-hatred?) and would never vote for a Democrat anyway.  I highly doubt that I will see anyone other than an old white man running on the Republican ticket in my lifetime.  I’ll be the first to admit that a year or more ago, I questioned whether the U.S. population could rally behind either a woman or an African-American nominee.  I am ecstatic that I was wrong.  If the right wing fundies want to complain about a woman getting out of the kitchen and running for president, then let them.  They were always going to vote for the old white guy on the GOP ticket anyway.

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Breaking the dryspell with a feminist rant

February 29, 2008 at 2:27 am (feminism, NPR, rants)

Oh, I just couldn’t let this one go.  I am currently deeply entrenched in my dissertation which is why I haven’t been feeling especially inspired lately to write much else.  But I heard a couple of things today that made me so incensed it got my creative juices flowing again.  I wake up to NPR in the morning.  I figure as I snooze, the latest news and current events will find their way into my brain.  Often what happens is that I think of something later in the day and wonder if it was a dream or was it actual news that president Bush vetoed another piece of legislation that would have benefited women or kids.

Unfortunately, I was very much awake when I heard an interview of a woman (I think the woman was interviewed at her church) about what presidential candidate she was excited about.  I think she said something about thinking it was nice that a lady could run for president, but that its really just a man’s job because of her strong belief that women hold a submissive place in the world and that she liked the leadership style of men.  I’m just wondering what her point of reference was.  The simple fact is, we have very little evidence of what a world controlled by women would look like.  So lets analyze what a world mostly ruled by men looks like.  Wars, religious fanaticism, dictatorship, genocide…Gee I can see why the status quo is so attractive!  I would have been sickened had a man said this, but to hear a woman say it literally made my skin crawl.  It greatly saddens me to think of a woman being raised in a faith which conveys to her, from infancy no doubt, that she is inferior and limited in what she can do.  Yet another in the list of a million reasons I’m proud to call myself an atheist.

And speaking of religion and discrimination, I had the pleasure on my way home from work of listening to another NPR story about the recent establishment of segregated mass-transit systems in many large cities.  They interviewed Israeli women on both sides of the issue.  The segregation in Israel is religiously based.  The point is apparently to keep men away from the wanton temptation of all of those seductive women.  One woman compared allowing her husband to sit next to another woman to allowing a baby to play with a loaded gun.  Seriously, she said those words…and then my head exploded.

I suppose it shouldn’t, but it continues to shock me when women willingly step backwards in time and give up the status and rights that ambitious and powerful women before them have earned all of us.

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Does Personal Ambition Make Us Less “Fit”?

January 26, 2008 at 1:20 am (evolution, feminism)

Evolutionarily speaking – Does ambition to seek higher education and a prestigious career go against our innate drive to procreate?  A conversation I had with a friend today got me thinking about this.  He mentioned to me how many Western European countries and China currently have birth rates that are to low to keep pace with the death rates.  The trend isn’t quite that dramatic in the U.S. (go figure), but it seems that countries with more educated and “professional” populations are the ones with declining birth rates.  Aren’t we always hearing news-fluff stories about how women are waiting until they are older and more professionally established to have children – often with negative repercussions for her fertility?
Putting political correctness aside, let’s face it – its not the women that are seeking masters, PhD’s and upwardly mobile careers that are popping out 4, 5 or more children.  And of course, of course, of course, there are exceptions to every rule!  Speaking in evolutionary terms, women that choose to wait until they have achieved their educational and career goals, until they have put away some money and established a home, until they have been married for a couple years – these women are less fit than women who start having children in their early 20’s and have a herd of them.  Taking myself and my friends as examples, I will not graduate until I’m 27, I’ll marry when I’m 27 and if I have a child – and that’s a big IF – it won’t be until I’m nearly 30.  At that point, I’d be lucky to have one or two, three at the most (god-forbid).

If this is truly the case, then in order to perpetuate one’s own personal blood line, wouldn’t we encourage our own children against seeking out ambitious goals, thus ensuring the continuation of our lineage?  Well, at least with my parents, this was certainly NOT the case, and it is not the case with most parents.  We are always hearing that children are encouraged above all else to get the most education they possibly can and to achieve their own goals in life.  Have we, as humans, evolved beyond the point of the blind urge to pass on our own genes?  It is now culturally acceptable and encouraged for one to find their own true happiness before settling down with a spouse and kids.  It seems that we have surpassed pure species perpetuation and moved onto self-gratification.  And I’m not saying that either is better, but it is truly interesting.

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The Joys of Estrogen

November 24, 2007 at 2:41 am (books, feminism, gender issues)

I recently wrote about a transgendered individual who appeared on “Miami Ink” touting the intellectual benefits of testosterone. While I’m still not buying into that horse-shit, I did think it’d be an interesting topic to follow up on. I recently picked up the book “She’s Not There” by Jennifer Finney Boylan. It is the story of her transition from the male to female physical gender. I say “physical” because she was born psychologically and spiritually a female. The book is very interesting and well written. I was reading a section this evening wherein she begins to discuss how she changed upon taking estrogen. It was quite fascinating. We all know that estrogen dictates that women store fat in their hips and thighs. We know it is responsible breast growth, hair texture and skin softness. However, what I found most interesting are the things that women and men experience so differently, small and large differences that we find curious or bothersome about each other. Here are some of the examples I found most interesting, and I will quote because they are so well written to begin with!

  • “The strength in my upper body was another early casualty of hormones…I found it hard to open jars or even lift up my children.”
  • “I shook my arm again, and there it was-the loose flab of the middle-aged female triceps.”
  • “Estrogen and antiandrogens profoundly affected my libido. I certainly thought about sex a lot less often and with a different sensibility. As a man, my sex drive frequently resembled a monologue by a comic book hero succumbing to an evil spell. ‘Must-have! Must! Trying-to-resist! Getting harder to- Must have! Can’t resist!'”
  • “When people asked me, later, what the effects of the pills were, I cleverly said, ‘Well, the one pill makes you want to talk about relationships and eat salad. The other pill makes you dislike the Three Stooges” (in reference to taking both estrogen and antiandrogens)
  • “I noticed that I was more sensitive to stimuli now. I was much more aware of changes in heat and cold, and I was much more likely to complain that a car I was riding in was too hot or too cold, and I was frequently taking off sweaters and putting them back on again.”
  • “I used to cry at things like Pepsi commercials and It’s a Wonderful Life. Now I was less likely to cry at these things and more likely to tear up when a dinner I had cooked didn’t turn out right, or when someone said something cruel…And when I cried, it wasn’t just the stoic silent leaking I was accustomed to. These were big, sobbing tears, and my body shook as they poured out. It felt great.”
  • “Above all, I was aware of a change in the way I occupied my body.  I felt raw and vulnerable, exposed to the world…The thing that I felt testosterone had given me more than anything was a sense of protection, of invulnerability.  I had never imagined myself to be particularly invulnerable when testosterone had free rein in my system, but this new world I was approaching seemed to have no buffers.  Things that used to just bounce off me now got under my skin.”

Wow, those observations really hit home with me and jive with several conversations I have had with my fiance and several other men.  What I think is most interesting is that this is a person who has always identified psychologically as female, yet, didn’t experience things like vulnerability or emotional sensitivity about cruelty, or have the more reclusive “female” libido.  These traits that we associate as being “feminine” are very much the result of physical hormones coursing through our bodies.

I hope everyone else finds this topic as fascinating as I do, because I’m sure its not the last time I’ll discuss it!

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Testosterone=Logic? Not in my world.

November 8, 2007 at 1:12 am (feminism, television)

I was watching one of my guilty pleasures, Miami Ink earlier today.  To defend my TV viewing choice, I watch it mainly because I love tattoos and hearing the stories behind peoples’ tattoos.  They had an interesting client for this week’s episode.  It was a man who got a tattoo of a type of fish which can change gender under certain circumstances.  It was fitting for this man because he was actually born a genetic female but underwent gender-reassignment surgery to become male.  This in and of itself is not very remarkable, and I am always very pleased to hear when individuals like this man are able to become their true gender.  Because really, who’s business is it if someone want to change genders?

The point that did get me thinking (and a little peeved) the rest of the day was what he said about the effects he observed in himself upon taking high doses of testosterone.  Basically, he said he was finally able to “think”.  He could be “logical”, he finally understood directions.  Everything just became clear to him.  Umm, excuse me?  Wow, way to give license to the testosterone-dripping tattoo artists to slam women.  I absolutely have to call bull-shit on this guy.  Certainly something changed within him psychologically as well as physically, but to say that only with massive doses of male hormone is he able to think logically?  Please.

I take major issue with anyone who implies that women can’t think logically.  As a scientist, I definitely use that side of my brain more, and I think I am easily on par with my male peers as far as logic goes.  I actually get very annoyed when people (men and women both) use emotional or poorly thought out arguments when discussing things with me.  And as far as the directions thing goes?  This one is such a trite stereotype its barely worth addressing.  Needless to say, I know plenty examples of each gender that are either above or below average with the directions.  I myself have a good sense of direction, which, when driving, partially makes up for my comically bad depth perception.

And what he didn’t mention (not that he had a lot of time on the show) were the qualities he lost out on.  As long as we’re spouting out cliches and stereotypes lets talk about what women are good at.  Did he, for instance, lose his ability to multi-task?  What about his time management skills…his sense of empathy…communication skills…nourishing behaviors…

Actually, in all seriousness, I think that studying trans-gendered individuals would be very valuable for delineating the affects of testosterone and estrogen on personalities and behavioral traits.  Who better to study than those who have experienced both?  I’m not calling this guy a liar (completely), but when you hold knowledge like this, try to do something better with it than to put down women and further stereotypes.  It will serve both genders better.

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Thompson: A Real Revolutionary

September 9, 2007 at 9:25 pm (feminism, opinions, politics, presidental race, rants)

Gee, I’m so excited that Fred Thompson decided to grace the presidential candidate pool with his presence.  He’s a real breath of fresh air among all the other crotchety old white men running on the Republican ticket.  He also has ground breaking views on all of the social issues dominating headlines these days (and yes I did get this link from Feministing).  This makes me want to vomit:

Thompson praised Bush’s performance on Iraq, the economy and Social Security. While criticizing the president for presiding over “too much spending” at the federal level, he said he backed Bush’s efforts to try to overhaul Social Security with private investment accounts. He also praised Bush for “doing a good job” on the economy and said, “I give him credit for the Supreme Court nominations that he’s made.”

Yea, go Bushie for nominating two more conservative white men to the Supreme Court, who needs diversity?  Its only the group of people that determines most of the rules by which ALL Americans live by.

The other part of this that disturbs me pertains to the abortion rhetoric.

Don’t punish women who have abortions,” presidential hopeful Fred Thompson says. Punish the doctors who perform them.

This is a point on which I have engaged in discussions on other blogs, but not here that I remember.  It is the idea that an abortion is something that is done TO a woman, not an informed decision that SHE makes.  Not that I agree at all that anyone should be punished for the practice of abortions.  I just don’t understand why only the doctor is held responsible and not the person that chose to go to the clinic.  This is so patriarchal and condescending.  Treating the woman as if she is a helpless victim of abortion.  ‘Gee, I just stumbled into this clinic and, wait – what is that evil doctor doing to me?????’   I guess, given that he’s about 120 years old, Thompson still believes that it is our “wandering uterus” which makes us so crazy.  Clearly we don’t possess the intellect or logic to determine how to manage our own bodies.  Which is why its a good thing that President Dumb Shit had the presence of mind to only put more men on the Supreme Court.

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Sexy Cancer?

September 3, 2007 at 9:20 pm (feminism, opinions, television)

In the weekly Feministing reader I came across this article about the “Crazy Sexy Cancer”
story.  I have seen ads on TLC for this and for reasons I cannot quite articulate, it really bothers me.  I guess the whole point of it is to show that these women are empowered to fight this horribly disease, which it truly a worthwhile message.  These women are putting a positive spin on their strength and determination.

Here are a couple of explanations I could come up with, and these apply just to the title and premise of the show:

  • It implies that even in the face of pain and illness, women are expected to be upbeat, cheerful and sexy.  Their ultimate goal is to go into their MRI or their chemo treatment, or surgery with a big, toothy smile on their face .
  • The name of the TV show itself is quite flippant and juvenile and evokes images of bright pink Chick-Lit novels one would read over a margarita at the beach.
  • It somehow gives the impression that there is always some happy ending, which there isn’t.  Cancer treatments have advanced by leaps and bounds in the last few decades, but it is still and incredibly difficult disease to treat and live with.
  • I think the women battling cancer can be crazy, beautiful, sexy, empowered, whatever she wants to be, but the disease itself is none of the above.

I know it seems cold and callused to criticize this, and I have absolutely no idea how I would view it if I were personally affected by cancer.  With my work, I am definitely on the periphery of how cancer affects the patient and their family.  I know a lot about the molecular workings of cancer, but my education is lacking any emphasis on the emotional or even symptomatic aspects of the disease.  As a cancer researcher, I am always eager to learn from those who are more intimately affected by the disease.  I’d be interested to hear what others think about the idea of this show.

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The “Truth”

August 29, 2007 at 1:10 am (feminism, rants)

Some time last year, the city I live in was blessed with a new radio station, a right-wing crazy talk radio station called “The Truth”.  There are some key differences between “The Truth” and say, NPR.  (1) “The Truth” is a commercial station and (2) You actually become stupider while listening to it.  Just today, I think Algebra II just melted straight away.  To me, its kind of an audio equivalent of a train-wreck.  Its just too horrible to turn away from.  So time to time when there’s nothing good on NPR, I’ll turn on this tripe for a good laugh.  Obviously I’m a liberal, but I like to give most conservatives that benefit of the doubt and say I may not agree with their politics, religion or ideology, but at least I don’t assume they are idiotic.  Today’s listen to “The Truth” may change those assumptions.  I will give two examples of why this is, from the only 2 times I listened to the station today.

1.  Business Babes:   I believe it was on the Laura Ingram show this morning that they were discussing the recent phenomena of, gasp, women that are experts on business and the economy.  They referred specifically to Erin Burnett who apparently has the nickname “Business Babe”.  Another example is Maria Bartiromo, aka “the Money Honey”.  This is disgusting on so many levels.  First of all, the radio retards acted simply amazed that someone with boobs and a uterus would know something about stocks and bonds.  These are women that have worked their way to the positions they are in by having the expertise and charisma to have earned their jobs as correspondents to major news channels.  Sure they are attractive, and that no doubt played a key part in how they got their positions on TV.  Like it or not, they don’t generally put ugly people on TV (James Carvill being a major exception).  Why is it assumed that women know nothing about money?  This whole conversation was infuriating to say the least.

2.  Swallowing Glass:  This next exchange was maddening simply because these two morons actually have a radio show, even though they clearly have the combined IQ of a shot glass.  Here’s the gist of the exchange, and I swear I’m not making up any of the parts that make them sound like total dumb-fucks.  I couldn’t make this up.

  • Lead Moron (LM):   Due to natural erosion the beaches in Ft. Lauderdale are disappearing and they have to dredge or truck new sand in to create usable beaches.
  • Backup Moron (BM):  Duh, really??
  • LM:  Yea, and they’re actually talking about using recycled, crushed up glass to replace the sand instead of scraping more off of the bottom of the ocean.
  • BM:  Broken glass?  Oh my god!!!  Well, I guess sand is made of silicon isn’t it?
  • LM:  Uh, I guess.
  • BM:  So they’re going to be putting glass shards on the beach?
  • LM:  Yea, this means that (and he yelled this part) your little kids are going to be playing in the ocean, then come back to the beach and put their little wet fingers in the broken glass, and then eat it.  Your kids are going to have BROKEN GLASS SHARDS IN THEIR DIGESTIVE TRACTS!

It was at this point that I had to turn it off because I was yelling at the radio and my friends were looking at me like I had gone off the deep end.  If only these guys knew that they make polar-fleece out of recycled plastic bottles.  That would absolutely blow their minds.

Why do these assholes have to be not only stupid, but stupid in an incendiary way that alarms their equally moronic listener base?  That was certainly enough of “The Truth” for one day.  One year more like it, although it does give me fantastic ranting material!!

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Default Settings

August 20, 2007 at 1:17 am (feminism, random thoughts)

Something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately are my personal default settings.  By this I mean, what does my mind automatically think of when I read something, hear something, etc.  I think that everyone has defaults, and a lot of them are common among individuals in a society.  For example, when I pick up a book to read, unless explicitly told or indicated otherwise by the author, the characters default to Caucasian.  Its something that I have pondered before, but I was reminded of it when I read this post on a blog that analyzes female characters in fiction/film/TV.  It was pretty eye opening that some animated films failed the simple test of whether 2 female characters conversed about something other than a male character.  Man that’s sad.  That’s what I mean by default:  main characters in these films are always male, while the female characters are relegated to side-kick, mother or love-interest.  It would certainly be a novelty, something the film would be marketed for, if the main character were female.

These defaults apply to race, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious beliefs among other things.  I don’t believe that they are quite the same at stereotypes, because they don’t necessarily deal with characteristics of a certain group of people or idea, but its similar I guess.  What I have personally noticed most are the patriarchal-based defaults.  Men are the head of the family, the churches, the government.  Americans (myself included) can barely wrap their heads around the idea of a women being president.  When you picture a CEO, a surgeon, a scientist, isn’t it usually a man?  And those aren’t even the stereotypical “male” jobs like police and firefighters (or policemen and firemen).  When couples go to buy houses and cars, who does the salesman (oops, I mean sales person) address regarding the financial nitty-gritties of it?  People definitely default to men as the person in charge.

One of the funnier defaults is one my fiance has:  all cats are girls and dogs are boys.  Is this because cats are seen as feminine (think the crazy cat lady) and dogs are more masculine?

I think its very interesting to go through your day being aware of what defaults your mind is going to, and maybe trying to switch them up.  I’d also be interested in what defaults other people can think of.

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